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Etex Group: Future-proofing employees to work anywhere across the world

Leentje Chavatte

Leentje Chavatte

Microsoft, Data & AI and Digital Transformation

Read Time, 5 min.

When COVID-19 spread across Europe in early 2020, businesses entered a new digitally-dependent age.

Social distancing measures had asked offices of all shapes and sizes to close their doors, sparking organizations to quickly find other virtual ways for colleagues to meet and collaborate remotely. But for Belgium building material specialist Etex, this was a step they were ready for – having already implemented a cloud-based infrastructure and collaboration tools back in 2018. 

“We already had a digital-first solution in place to keep everyone working remotely,” says Dirk Altgassen, CIO of Etex Group. “The majority were used to the technology and using it as part of their day-to-day, so when the decision was made it was a very smooth transition.” 

Having a familiarity of these tools meant that thousands of Etex employees worldwide could transition to remote working with minimal disruption. But with 40% now working from home for the first time, Etex’s IT department needed to quickly support these people remotely and help them get up to speed.  

“In the past, we would have had more discussions around what software people like to use,” explains Bert Janssens, Head of Technology at Etex. “But this was something we had to quickly roll-out to make sure everyone could keep working – and in a few days, we noticed a significant increase in usage and adoption, and everyone was thanking us for it.” 

Keeping people at the heart of the business 

Founded in 1905, Etex Group is a family-owned international building materials specialist, operating 101 production sites across 42 countries, with an annual turnover of around three billion euro. 

With more than 13,000 employees worldwide, the manufacturer ensures it provides the best collaboration tools and skills to its workforce through ‘Connect & Care’ – a key group value that pushes them to nurture teamwork and find new ways of working. It was this approach in 2018 that led Etex to implement a new cloud-based infrastructure through Microsoft Azure and Microsoft 365. 

IMarch 2020, as social distancing measures began closing several production sites, Etex’s IT team remained confident they had the tools to help everyone that could work to do so from home. 

We focused on the non-factory workers – we had 9,000 Microsoft 365 users who could work remotely, and everyone had access to Microsoft Teams,” says Janssens. “Around 60% were already using Teams, so our focus was getting the other 40% acquainted with the platform so everyone can collaborate together. 

Even though we started this transformation a few years ago, it wasn’t until COVID-19 hit that everyone saw the value of these tools and the system on a whole.”

Quickly adopting a new solution 

With no need to roll-out any new technology, Etex’s primary focus was on an adoption program hosted through the company’s intranet – offering e-learnings and online training sessions to communicate the benefits of Microsoft 365 tools. This worked alongside a customized program called “GoTeams” to guide departments on the new ways of working using the digital platforms.  

“Some used Teams every day and others had never tried it, so there was a learning curve we had to address,” explains Janssens“Not just how to start meetings and share presentations, but making sure people found new ways to continue the non-work-related conversations too. 

“There’s no bumping into people at the coffee machine anymore – you need to actively approach them via Teams chat or call. It’s that new mentality we needed to get across, and these communications helped to pinpoint how everyone could use these tools in their day-to-day. 

And, when you’re at home with back-to-back meetings, you may not realize you’ve been behind a screen for 12-hours straight,” he adds. “So we also wanted to make sure everyone had not just the tools but also the right guidance for how to work out of the office, such as how to organize their day, when to take breaks, and simple exercises to make a difference between working from home and being at home.” 

The intranet also offered training on other relevant topics, such as securely accessing cloud data from home or using Microsoft multifactor authentication – a recent move Etex made from a third-party two-factor authentication tool to increase user experience while keeping Etex’s data secure outside the office. 

“The online training was great as it allowed hundreds of people to all learn this information at the same time,” Altgassen recalls. “It was easy to translate and roll-out across our Etex regions too. As an internal program, we could simply share the training with our local offices, without having to reinvent the wheel each time.” 

Transitioning to a digital workplace

Microsoft Teams has now become an essential tool across Etex, with many non-believers who were reluctant to move from Skype for Business becoming advocates for the platform. 

“Before COVID-19 we had roughly 8,000 Teams activities a day,” says Janssens. “A week later we were at 40,000, which shows how people can quickly adapt when everything becomes digital.” 

As well as a secure platform for meetings and sharing confidential data, employees are also creating their own Teams to collaborate more efficiently on projects — a feature Dirk is a big fan of.  

“It’s a great way to manage our ongoing projects,” he says. “After creating a ticket, a new Teams channel is available within minutesThe page owner then has full control over who has access without getting IT involved again – making things much simpler for any NDA projects.” 

Foundations for blended working

As Etex now begins to reopen its offices, Dirk believes that the success of remote working will offer a new flexibility for employees in the future. 

“We’re reducing our main IT office to 40% to keep with social distancing rules,” he says. “Staff have the option to book a desk, but many are happy to keep working from home. It’s a great flexible-working model and could be something we trial in the future – downsizing office spaces in each region to help cut costs. 

With an app also in development to help factory workers stay connected with the rest of the organization, Etex’s commitment to innovate and find better ways to bring its workforce together is commendable – a value that’s proven its worth in a very uncertain time for businesses everywhere. 

 

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